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Required Reading

November 22nd, 2009 - 11:42 am

Spend some time talking health care reform with David Broder, that conduit of conventional wisdom:

Here, for example, is what Robert Bixby, the executive director of the Concord Coalition, a bipartisan group of budget watchdogs, told me: “The Senate bill is better than the House version, but there’s not much reform in this bill. As of now, it’s basically a big entitlement expansion, plus tax increases.”

Here’s another expert, Maya MacGuineas, the president of the bipartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget: “While this bill does a better job than the House version at reducing the deficit and controlling costs, it still doesn’t do enough. Given the political system’s aversion to tax increases and spending cuts, I worry about what the final bill will look like.”

These are nonpartisan sources, but Republican budget experts such as former CBO director Douglas Holtz-Eakin amplify the point with specific examples and biting language. Holtz-Eakin cites a long list of Democratic-sponsored “budget gimmicks” that made it possible for the CBO to estimate that Reid’s bill would reduce federal deficits by $130 billion by 2019.

Perhaps the biggest of those maneuvers was Reid’s decision to postpone the start of subsidies to help the uninsured buy policies from mid-2013 to January 2014 — long after taxes and fees levied by the bill would have begun.

Even with that change, there is plenty in the CBO report to suggest that the promised budget savings may not materialize. If you read deep enough, you will find that under the Senate bill, “federal outlays for health care would increase during the 2010-2019 period” — not decline. The gross increase would be almost $1 trillion — $848 billion, to be exact, mainly to subsidize the uninsured. The net increase would be $160 billion.

But this depends on two big gambles. Will future Congresses actually impose the assumed $420 billion in cuts to Medicare, Medicaid and other federal health programs? They never have.

When you’ve lost Broder, you’ve lost Washington.

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